Bluestone Coal Sings the Blues

By Cindy Rank

Voice deadlines often rattle my brain as I puzzle over how to relate a recent development in some one of our, by now, four score and umpteen legal actions against coal companies that are polluting the environment.

Take for example our actions with regard to Bluestone Coal violations at its Red Fox mine in McDowell County.  (Bluestone is a subsidiary of the Justice Group, which is controlled by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.)

On June 4, 2019 West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC) joined the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices in sending a Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue if after 60 days Bluestone Coal Company did nothing to address its selenium pollution of tributary streams to the Tug Fork River.

In the July 2019 Voice, editor John wrote a brief article about this NOI and several other NOIs sent to a variety of coal companies guilty of similar violations in different watersheds.

Then in the September 2019 Voice, John included an article from the Charleston Gazette-Mail by Kate Mishkin about the actual complaint that was filed on August 6, 2019 which asserted Bluestone was in violation of both its Clean Water Act Permit (NPDES) and its Surface Mine Permit.

Bluestone’s response to Kate’s questions was predictable: “This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by activist organizations who ultimately want to close West Virginia coal mines and put miners out of work.”

Fortunately, the Southern District Court in Bluefield wasn’t so easily swayed and on June 3rd of this year the Judge denied Bluestone’s motion to dismiss and held that our case against the Justice group could proceed.

On July 27th the Court issued an order affirming Bluestone’s liability for the violations of law asserted in our complaint.

The next step is for the Court to determine what relief should be required of the company.

Relief requested in our complaint includes: an injunction against Bluestone from operating its facilities in a manner that would result in further violations of its permits; an order that Bluestone immediately comply with the effluent limitations contained within its NPDES permit (WV1006304); an order that Bluestone immediately comply with the terms and conditions of its surface mine permit (WVSCMRA S007282); an order that Bluestone pay an appropriate civil penalty of up to $54,833 per day for each CWA violation.

A Court hearing for that phase of the case was to be held in August, but the Judge recently granted Bluestone an extension until later in September.

And so, as we so often say, stay tuned.